This is “Dots,” VolleyballMag.com’s weekly look at 10 things in club volleyball, past or present, that interest me and hopefully will interest you. Look for Dots every Tuesday through Junior Nationals this summer:
- With qualifier season over for 2023, the fields for Junior Nationals are filling, via regional qualifying events for all but the Open division; and via a super secretive selection process for the nine Open At-Large bids still outstanding in the 15-17s high school age groups we cover.I served on the selection committee one year and, let me tell you, it was eye opening.
When I was on it…
1. Committee members were mostly from Texas
2. They did not watch teams play outside of the normal course of their coach/club director/referee duties
3. They did not focus on size of a qualifier or quality of a qualifier field
4. They did not focus on circumstances of a particular finish (eg, injuries, absences or bad luck (wrong side of 3-way tie))
5. They looked at qualifier finish (T-5 good, even if only 20 teams, two ranked; T-11 bad even if 40 teams, 20 ranked)
6. They looked at record versus qualified field
7. They looked at record versus At-Large candidate field
Team X beats the No. 1 team in the country twice but is 4-8 versus the qualified field? Pretty good. Team Y beats trickle down qualifier six times but is 0-5 versus everyone else? That’s better! Team Y is in!
Bottom line: It’s not a great system and oftentimes does not identify the best candidates to complete the Open field.
• The 15 Open field has five At-Large bids to fill the 36-team field. Who should get them?
AZ Sky 15-1 Gold did not have a great Lone Star (4-3 in Open; 21st) but its T-5 at Red Rock (7-1; loss only to national No. 2 TAV 15 Black) backs up its incredible T-3 at Triple Crown. This team should be in.
So, too, should Alamo 15 Premier. Remember that last year’s Alamo 15 Premier team WON Junior Nationals as an At-Large. Not saying it will happen again, but this team deserves a shot. After a 4-3 showing at Triple Crown (beat AZ Sky; lost only to teams ranked among the top 11 nationally), Alamo placed fourth at Big South, just out of bid position; and also had two T-9s. Click on this link to see a video of Alamo’s Alyssa Walker, who unloads on a ball: Alyssa Walker, Alamo 17s Premier
After these two, the Committee should strong consider HJV 15 Elite, TAV Houston 15 Adidas, Jupiter Elite 15E, SynergyForce 15 Lisa, Top Select 15 Elite, Triangle 15 Black and WPVC 15 Armour Black. The guess here is that your five At-Large selections will come from these nine squads.
• The 16 Open field has two At-Large spots, both from Lone Star, which awarded a lone bid to Houston Juniors 16 Elite, which placed third; surrounded by seven teams all with bids and all ranked among the national top 15. In my experience, in situations like this, the Committee will look first to this qualifier to see if one or more bids could “trickle further.”
At Lone Star, finishing just out of the top eight were three teams with bids plus KC Power 16 Black. Now Power is NOT a team I would normally associate with an At-Large bid, because it also was 23rd out of 48 at MEQ and 19th out of 30 at Show Me, but the team did go 8-1 at Triple Crown so you never know…
It seems pretty clear cut to me that the two At-Large bids should both go to teams from the Wolverine State, Michigan Elite 16 Mizuno and Legacy 16-1 Adidas. Both are ranked in my top 25 as well as the top 25 in AES’ computerized rankings. T-5 for both Michigan Elite and Legacy out of 48 teams at MEQ is a sure shine of their fitness for this field, when you consider that eight teams in the national top 35 or so finished lower than that, including four with bids.
Other squads the Committee might consider include Dynasty 16 Black, NKYVC 16 Tsunami and Rockwood Thunder 16 Elite.
• The 17 Open field also has two At-Large spots to fill, again both from Lone Star. Using the thinking that perhaps someone finishing outside the top eight, all of which qualified, might be deserving, we have Milwaukee Sting 17 Gold. This is a team I have in my top 25, with high-end Div. I talent, a good-enough coach (who once wrote for me at Prep – hi Scott), and finishes inside the top 10 at three high-end qualifiers.
Miami Hype 17N Emilio, AZ Storm Elite 17 Thunder, Elevation 17 Ulland, City 17 Gold and Six Pack 17 are others for the Committee to consider. I favor Six Pack for no specific reason other than I want to see the Petersen Twins play in Open.
• There are big changes coming to Drive Nation VBC out of Dallas. Jason Nicholson, the national championship-winning coach, and the club’s director, is going back to Texas Advantage next season to coach and be a director with Corinne Atchison and L.J. Sariego. Nicholson coached the top 18s team at Drive and coaches the 16s, both top three teams nationally.
• If that wasn’t enough, Drive Nation’s 17s coach, Ping Cao, also is departing the club, which is fronted by former NBA star Jermaine O’Neal. “Ping” is headed to Dallas Skyline to be its 17 Royal coach.
Ping, 65, will have spent two seasons at Drive Nation after a dozen at TAV. Previous to that, he coached at Sports Performance in Chicago. Ping has won seven USAV Open national titles over his career, as well as several AAU Open national titles.
• Writing about Nicholson and Ping got me thinking about the most successful club coaches currently patrolling the sidelines in our sport. It’s a short list that includes Mike Lingenfelter of Munciana, Ozhan Bahrambeygui of Coast, Cari Klein of Sunshine and Gabe Aramian of A5.
Condensing down further, my Mount Rushmore of current coaches would be Lingenfelter, Ping, Aramian and Kline.
Who would be on your Mount Rushmore of current club coaches? Email email@example.com to make your case.
• There were a ton of regional events across the US this past weekend, as USAV worked to fill spots in the other five “must qualify for” divisions after Open: National, USA, Liberty, American, Freedom.
I invited coaches across the land to share their teams’ qualification stories with me, even personally reached out to many. but only a few did, a shame, really, because this was the perfect time to get their team some well-deserved pub.
Fortunately, we did hear from a few.
Colorado Juniors 16Kaleena won the ZBT tournament this past weekend. The team came into the event ranked 6th but played well and had a few upsets to win the ZBT tournament and earn an American bid.
“The team beat Front Range to start off the morning and then beat them again to win the tournament and the bid!” exclaimed coach Kaleena Davidson. “All 10 players contributed to the weekend, with standout performances from outside hitters Lillian Edwards and Weynishet Farnworth. Taylor Matthews anchored the defense and passing, recording three digs per set and passing a 2.18. Overall it was a great team effort!”
- NORCO 15 Black and NORCO 17 Black emerged with American bids from the ZBT as well.The 15s had three players who really shined: eighth grade setter Gia Ireland, freshman libero Kate Schroetlin and 6-2 freshman middle Ava Plassemeyer. Ireland is from Wyoming, drives three hours one way for practice and has huge upside.
The 17s got great performances from Maddy Stucky, a junior setter and a southpaw; tall junior middles Addison Engle and Delaney Ewing and junior libero Julia Bohlinger.
Drive Nation 15 Red won the North Texas Regional championship without dropping a set to secure the National bid. Jacob Hanan’s team should be a favorite to medal in that division in Chicago.
“I’m proud of these girls as they shined in the most important matches,” Hanan said. “It was the first tournament where everyone consistently contributed and played their highest level. We forget that winning isn’t always easy and is hard especially at the highest level. Sometimes we get lost in the wins and losses and qualifying, but really growing and learning and getting better in your craft is what we want. This team has gotten better from where we started to where we are now and it showed this weekend.”
Alamo 17 Premier secured a USA bid this weekend at the Lone Star Region Bid Tournament, thanks to this closing salvo from 5-7 OH Alysa Walker, a mighty mite committed to Air Force.
“She might have the fastest arm I’ve coached in 25 years of coaching,” noted Scott Mattera.
The set came from Northeastern recruit Gabby Reeves.
“We’ve been close in a couple of Open qualifiers,” Mattera said, “but were able to secure a USA-level bid at this regional.”
• I was in Las Vegas for Emperor’s Cup U18 tournament the weekend before last and saw a lot of seniors with mature games. I also saw a freshman with a mature game yet room to grow into one of the best nationally in the class of 2026.
Meet Laura Eichert, a 6-0 (and growing) outside hitter for WVBA 16 adidas. Eichert profiles, to my eye, in a similar way to SCVC 15 Roxy OH Audrey Flanagan, who blew up into a top 10 national recruit at Triple Crown.
Eichert has length, outstanding athleticism and a bazooka for a right arm. She scored consistently against teams stacked with players three years her senior. Eichert averaged 3.5 kills and 1.9 digs per set for Lake Stevens High School in the fall. She’s a star now and sure to generate considerable buzz once college coaches get to watch her.
• We finish with tragic news, the death of high school volleyball coach and middle school counselor, 23-year-old Niolis Collazo, on Saturday, the victim of a drive-by shooting.
Collazo was a 2018 graduate of Waukegan High, near Chicago, and coached the freshman boys volleyball team. She was struck while driving a little after 10:30 p.m. Saturday night. Her car was one of two struck by gunfire, but she was the only person hit.
According to a news account, in February, Collazo began working with Chicago-based Youth Guidance on its Working on Womanhood program at Smith Middle School. The group counseling program provides cognitive behavioral therapy to students in grades 6 to 12 from high-risk and under-resourced communities, according to Youth Guidance.
“Niolis’s smile, laughter, kindness, warmth, presence and commitment to improving the lives of others through her work with Working on Womanhood will be greatly missed by her community and all that knew her,” Youth Guidance said in a statement.
Collazo is not the first in our community to die because of gun violence on our streets. Most recently, in October 2021, Daina Monroe, a standout middle blocker who graduated from Culver City HS in California, was shot and killed while sitting in a car with her sister and two male friends outside of her family home in Inglewood. She was just 18 years old.
We grieve for these young lives lost due to senseless gun violence.
Until next time …